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Humanitarian corner
by Mary E. Durham



Travelling in Montenegro - in fine weather, be it said - is delightful from start to finish. And to Shan, my Albanian driver, whose care, fidelity, and good nature have added greatly to the success of many of my tours, I owe a passing tribute. He is short and dark, a somewhat mixed specimen of his race, and hails from near the borders, where folk are apt to be so mixed that it is hard to tell which is the true type. Careful of his three little horses, and always ready in an emergency, he yet preserves the gay, inconsequent nature of a very young child. His veneer of civilisation causes him to assume for short intervals an appearance of great stiffness and dignity, but it melts suddenly, and his natural spirits bubble through. Thus, at an inn door before foreigners, he is stately, but in the kitchen to which I have been invited to accompany him, he waves his arms wildly and performs a war dance, chaffs the ladies, and makes himself highly agreeable. His tastes are simple and easily satisfied. I have stood him several treats of his own selection, and they usually cost about four pence. One was an immense liver which was toasted for him in hot wood ashes, and which he consumed along with a whole loaf of bread - whereupon he expressed himself as feeling much better. His generosity is unfailing; at the top of a pass, in a heavy storm of sleet, he offered me the greatcoat he was wearing, and he is always ready to help a distressed wayfarer. One awful evening, when the rain was falling in torrents and it was rapidly growing dark, we were hailed, between Rijeka and Cetinje, by a man in distress. A sheep, his only one, which he was driving up to Cetinje, had fallen, wet and exhausted, by the roadside, and he knew not what to do. Shan was greatly concerned. He explained to me that the man was very poor, the sheep very tired and also that the sheep was a very little one, then he took it in his arms like a baby and arranged it on the box, where it cuddled up against him for warmth, and, through wind, rain, and the blackest night I have ever been out in, he drove three horses abreast, held up an umbrella, nursed the sheep, and sang songs till we arrived safely at our journey's end.

Acting on the principle of "Do as you would be done by," when his pouch is full, he distributes tobacco lavishly along the route with a fine "Damn-the-expense" air which one cannot but admire, and when not a shred remains, he begs it, quite shamelessly, of everyone he meets. When I first made his acquaintance, his appearance puzzled me. Learning that he was an Albanian, I remarked upon the fact to him ; he immediately crossed himself hastily. "Yes, an Albanian," he admitted, " but Cattolici, Cattolici," and he added as an extra attraction, "and I came to Montenegro when I was very little." He persists in regarding me as a co-religionist; for the fact that I am neither Orthodox nor Mohammedan is to him quite sufficient proof. His Catholicism is quite original. Unlike most Catholic Albanians, who display a horror of the Orthodox Church, he is most pressing in his attentions to the Orthodox priests, and will never, if he can help it, be left out of a circle of conversation that includes one. One Easter Day I saw him persist in kissing, in Orthodox fashion, the village priest, who having more than enough osculation to go through with his own flock, did his best to dodge him, but was loudly smacked upon the back of the neck. His views upon doctrinal points are mixed, but his simple creed has taught him faith, hope, and charity "which is the greatest of the three."

Withal he is a bit of a buck, and likes to cut a dash in what he considers large towns. He strolls in when I am having dinner and converses with the company at large; he makes me a flowery speech - he is my servant; it is mine to command and his to obey ; whatever I order he will carry out with pleasure. When he learns that I shall not require him till to-morrow, he beams all over his sun-tanned face. Then he fidgets and makes pointless remarks. I do not help him. He strolls with elaborate carelessness behind my chair and whispers hurriedly that towns are very expensive, and if I would only advance him a florin or two of his pay - I supply the needful, and later I meet him, a happy man, playing the duke among a crowd of friends, to all of whom he introduces me with great style and elegance. But his dissipations are very mild, though from the swagger he puts on you would think they were bold and bad. I have never seen him the worse for drink, and he is punctuality itself and very honest. Child of the race with about the worst reputation in Europe though he is, I would trust him under most circumstances.

Leaving Cetinje by its only road, we soon reach the top of the pass, and a sudden turn reveals the land beyond. We have come across Europe to the edge of Christianity, and stand on the rocky fortress with the enemy in sight. The white road serpentines down the mountain side, and far below lies the green valley and its tiny village, Dobrsko Selo ; on all sides rise the crags wild and majestic ; away in the distance gleams the great silver lake of Skodra. Beyond it the blue Albanian mountains, their peaks glittering with snow even in June, show fainter and fainter, and the land of mystery and the unspeakable Turk fades into the sky - a scene so magnificent and so impressive that it is worth all the Journey from England Just to have looked at it.

We cast loose our third horse, and rattle all the way down to Rijeka, skimming along the mountain side and swinging round the zigzags on a road that it takes barely two hours to descend and quite three to climb up again; for Cetinje lies 1900 feet above the sea, and Rijeka not much more than 200 feet.

Rijeka means a stream, and the town so called is a cluster of most picturesque, half-wooden houses, facing green trees and a ripple of running water and backed by the mountain side - as pretty a place as one need wish to see. The stream's full name is Rijeka Crnoievicheva, the River of Crnoievich, but for everyday use town and river are simply Rijeka. But its full name must not be forgotten, for it keeps alive the fame of Ivan Beg Crnoievich, who ruled in the latter half of the fifteenth century, in the days when Montenegro's worst troubles were beginning. Unable to hold the plains of the Zeta against the Turk, Ivan gathered his men together, burnt his old capital, Zabljak, near the head of the lake, retired into the mountains, and founded Cetinje in 1484. He built a castle above Rijeka as a defence to his new frontier, and swore to hold the Black Mountain against all comers. But he meant his people to grow as a nation worthily, and not to degenerate into a horde of barbarians. He founded the monastery at Cetinje, appointed a bishop and built churches. And - for he was quite abreast of his times - he sent to Venice for type and started a printing press at Rijeka. In spite of the difficulties and dangers that beset the Montenegrins, they printed their first book little more than twenty years later than Caxton printed his at Westminster. Ivan is not dead, but sleeps on the hill above Rijeka, and he will one day awake and lead his people to victory. The printing press was burned by the Turks, and the books which issued from it - fine specimens of the printer's art - are rare.

The stream Rijeka is a very short one. It rises in some curious caverns not much farther up the valley, and flows into the lake of Skodra. The town is built of cranky little houses, half Turkish in style, with open wooden galleries painted green-gimcrack affairs, that look as though they might come down with a run any minute, when filled as they frequently are with a party of heavy men. It has an old-world look, but, as most of the town was burnt by the Turks in 1862, appearances are deceptive. A perfect Bond Street of shops faces the river. Here you can buy at a cheap rate all the necessaries of Montenegrin existence. In the baker's shop the large round flat loaves of bread, very like those dug up at Pompeii, are neatly covered with a white cloth to keep off the flies.

Plenty of tobacco is grown in the neighbourhood. In the autumn the cottages are festooned with the big leaves drying in the sun, and you may see Albanians, sitting on their doorsteps, shredding up the fragrant weed with a sharp knife into long, very fine strips till it looks like a bunch of hair, shearing through a large pile swiftly, with machine - like regularity and precision. Tobacco is a cheap luxury, and I am told Montenegrin tobacco is good. Almost every man in Montenegro smokes from morning till night, generally rolling up the next cigarette before the last is finished.

The town possesses a burgomaster, a post-office, a steamboat office, a Palace, and an inn, which provides a good dinner on market days. It is a clean, prosperous, friendly, and very simple-minded place - I did not realise how simple-minded till I spent an afternoon sitting on the wall by the river, drawing the baker's shop, with some twenty Montenegrins sitting round in a crimson and blue semicircle. It was in the days when I knew nothing of the language, and the Boer War was as yet unfinished. I drew, and my friend talked. A youth in Western garb acted as interpreter. He ascertained whence we had come, and then remarked airily, "Now, I come from Hungary, and I am walking to the Transvaal. This man," pointing out a fine young Montenegrin, "is coming with me !" Stumbling, voluble and excited, in very broken German, he unfolded their crazy plan. They were both brave men and exceedingly rich. "I have two thousand florins, and a hundred more or less makes no difference to him," kept cropping up like the burden of a song. Their families had wept and prayed, but had failed to turn them from their purpose. They were going to walk to the Transvaal. "But you can't," we said. He was hurt. "Of course not all the way," he knew that. They had meant to walk across Albania to Salonika, but the Consul at Skodra had put a stop to this dangerous scheme. Now they were going by sea from Cattaro to Alexandria, and thence, also by sea, to Lorenzo Marques. After this, they should "walk to the Transvaal." "Why don't you walk from Alexandria ?" we asked. He answered quite seriously that they had thought of this, but they had been told there was a tribe of Arabs in the centre of Africa even more ferocious than the Albanians, so, though they were of course very brave men, they thought on the whole they preferred the boat. When they arrived, they meant to fight on whichever side appeared likely to win, and then they were going to pick up gold. We thought it our duty to try and dissuade them from their wild-goose chase, but our efforts were treated with scorn. "What can you do ? You speak very little German, and your friend nothing but Serbian." "No, he doesn't," said the Hungarian indignantly. "He speaks Albanian very well, and I - I know many languages. I speak Serbian and Hungarian." The idea that a place existed where no one spoke these well-known tongues was to him most ridiculous, and the Montenegrin, to whom it was imparted, smiled incredulously. We urged the price of living and the cost of machinery required in gold-mining. The first he did not believe; the second he thought very silly. The gold was there, and he was not such a fool as to require a machine with which to pick it up.

The Montenegrin, who had been bursting with a question for the last quarter of an hour, insisted on its being put. "Could he buy a good revolver in Johannesburg ?" He waited anxiously for a reply. "You see," explained the Hungarian, "he must leave his in Montenegro." "But why? It looks a very good one." The Montenegrin patted his weapon lovingly; he only wished he could take it, it would be most useful, but . . . in order to reach the boat at Cattaro he must cross Austrian territory, and you are not allowed to carry firearms in Austria! He shook his head dolefully when we said that permission could surely be obtained. "No, this was quite impossible ; under no circumstances could it be managed. You don't know what the Austrians are !" said the Hungarian mysteriously. The unknown land, the unknown tongues, the British, the Boers, the rumble-tumble ocean and the perils of the deep were all as nothing beside the difficulty of crossing the one narrow strip of Austrian land. We told him revolvers were plentiful in Johannesburg, and the prospect of finding home comforts cheered him greatly. We parted the best of friends.

From Rijeka the road rises rapidly again, and strikes over the hills, winding through wild and very sparsely inhabited country. The mountain range ends abruptly, and we see the broad plains stretching away below us, with the white town of Podgoritza in the midst of it. The plain is very obviously the bed of the now shrunken lake of Skodra, and the water-worn pebbles are covered with but a thin layer of soil. But both maize and tobacco seem to do well upon it, and every year more land is taken into cultivation. The rough land is covered with wiry turf and low bushes, and swarms with tortoises which graze deliberately by the roadside. The river Moracha has cut itself a deep chasm in the loose soil between us and the town, and tears along in blue-green swirls and eddies. We have to overshoot the town to find the bridge, and we clatter into Podgoritza six or seven hours after leaving Cetinje, according to the weather and the state of the road.

Podgoritza is the biggest town in Montenegro, and has between five and six thousand inhabitants. It is well situated for a trading centre, for it is midway between Cetinje and Nikshitje, and is joined by a good road to Plavnitza, on the lake of Scutari, so is in regular steamboat communication with Skodra and with Antivari via Virbazar. Its position has always given it some importance. As a Turkish garrison town it was a convenient centre from which to invade Montenegro; to the Montenegrin it was part of his birthright - part of the ancient kingdom of Serbia - and as such to be wrested from the enemy. It was the brutal massacre of twenty Montenegrins in and near the town In time of peace (October 1874) that decided the Montenegrins to support the Herzegovinian insurrection and declare war. Podgoritza was besieged and taken in October 1876. The walls of the old town were blown to pieces with guns taken from the Turks at Medun, and an entirely new town has since sprung up on the opposite side of the stream Ribnitza. Podgoritza (= "At the Foot of the Mountain"), if you have come straight from the West, is as amusing a place as you need wish to visit. It has not so many show places as Cetinje even, and its charm is quite undefinable. It consists in its varied human crowd, its young barbarians all at play, its ideas that date from the world's well - springs, subtly intermingled with Manchester cottons, lemonade in glass-ball-stoppered bottles, and other blessings of an enlightened present. The currents from the East and the West meet here, the old world and the new ; and those to whom the spectacle is of interest, may sit upon the bridge and watch the old order changing.

The Montenegrin town of Podgoritza is clean and bright. The long wide main street of white stone, red-roofed shops with their gay wares, and the large open market square where the weekly bazaar is held, are full of life. Both street and market-place are planted with little trees, acacias and white mulberries; and the bright green foliage, the white road, the red roofs, the green shutters, the variety of costume, make an attractive scene in the blaze of the Southern sun. Across the gold-brown plain rise the blue mountains where lies that invisible line the frontier. The slim minarets of the old Turkish town shoot up and shimmer white on sky and mountain ; the river Ribnitza flows between the old town and the new, and over the bridge passes an endless stream of strange folk, the villagers of the plain and the half-wild natives of the Albanian mountains passing- from the world of the Middle Ages to a place which feels, however faintly, the forces of the twentieth century. Bullock carts, with two huge wheels and basket - work tops, trail slowly past groaning and screeching on their ungreased axles. Look well at the carts, for our own forefathers used them in the eleventh century, and they appear in the Harleian MSS.

Everything moves slowly. All day long folk draw water from the stone-topped well on the open space between the old town and the new - draw it slowly and laboriously, for there is no windlass or other labour-saving contrivance, and the water is pulled up in a canvas bag tied to a string. Three or four bagfuls go to one bucket.

In spite of the fact that Podgoritza is the centre of the Anglo-Montenegrin Trading Company and deals in Manchester cottons, the day seems distant when it will lose its other- simple habits. I was walking one day down the "High Street" with a friend, when a young Albanian went to call on his tailor. He came out presently with a fine new pair of the tight white trousers that his clan affects. He exhibited them in the middle of the road to two or three friends, and they were all evidently much struck with the make and embroidery. If the garments were so charming "off," what would they be "on"! The whole party hurried across to the shop door of the happy purchaser, and such an alarming unbuckling and untying began to take place that we discreetly went for a little walk. On our return the transfer had been effected. Two friends were grasping the garment by the front and back, and the wearer was being energetically jigged and shaken into it. This was a tough job, for it was skin-tight. The legs were then hooked-and-eyed up the back, and presently the youth was strutting down the middle of the road stiff-kneed and elegant, with the admiring eyes of Podgoritza upon him, and a ridiculously self-conscious smile.

Wandering gipsy tribes turn up here, too ; mysterious roving gangs, their scant possessions, tin pots and tent poles, piled on ponies ; their children, often as naked as they were born, perched on top of the load. They have no abiding place; impelled by a primeval instinct, they pass on eternally. Extraordinarily handsome savages some of them are, too. I have seen them on the march - the men in front, three abreast, swinging along like panthers; half stripped, clad in dirty white breeches and cartridges ; making up with firearms for deficiency in shirts, and carrying, each man, in addition to his rifle, a long sheath knife and a pistol in his red sash, their matted coal-black locks falling down to their beady, glittering black eyes, which watch you like a cat's, without ever looking you straight in the face. Their white teeth and the brass cases of the cartridges sparkling against their swarthy skins, they passed with their heads held high on their sinewy throats with an air of fierce mid sullen independence. Behind follow the boys, women, and children, with all their worldly goods ; golden-brown women with scarlet lips and dazzling teeth, their hair hanging in a thick black plait on either side of the face, like that of the ladies of ancient Egypt; holding themselves like queens, and, unlike their lords and masters, smiling very good - naturedly. So entirely do they appear to belong to an unknown, untamed past, that I was astonished when one of them, a splendid girl in tawny orange and crimson, addressed me in fluent Italian outside the Podgoritza inn. "I am a gipsy. Are you Italian?" Italy was her only idea of a foreign land, and England quite unknown to her. She hazarded a guess that it was far off, and imparted the information to a little crowd of Albanian and Montenegrin boys who were hanging around. When the servant of the inn thought the crowd too large, he came out to scatter it. The boys fled precipitately ; the girl stood her ground firmly, as one conscious of right, and told him what she thought of him volubly and fiercely, her eyes flashing the while. He retired discomfited, and she informed us superbly, "I told him the ladies wished to speak to me!" Unlike the Montenegrins, she understood at once that we were merely travelling for travelling's sake, and regarded it as perfectly natural. She retired gracefully when she had learnt what she wished to know.

The Montenegrin and Albanian gipsies are mostly Mohammedans, and what is vaguely described as Pagan. They seldom or never, it is said, intermarry with the people among whom they wander, but keep themselves entirely to themselves. One day the old quarter of Podgoritza was agog with a Mohammedan gipsy wedding. From across the river we heard the monotonous rhythmic pulsation of a tambourine, and at intervals the long-drawn Oriental yowl that means music. We strolled down to the bridge and joined the very motley collection of sight-seers. Gay and filthy, they gathered round us, and enjoyed at once the spectacle of two foreigners of unknown origin and the festivity which was going on in the back garden hard by. It could hardly be called a garden, it was the yard of a squalid little hovel backing on the river, and was filled with women in gorgeous raiment walking backwards and forwards in rows that met and swayed apart, singing a long howling chant, while the pom-pom and metallic jingle of the tambourine sounded over the voices with mechanical regularity. Presently all fell aside and left a space, into which leapt a dancing-girl, a mass of white silk gauze with a golden zouave and belt and a dangling coin head-dress. She wreathed her arms gracefully over her head and danced a complicated pas-seul with great aplomb and certainty, her white draperies swirling round her and her gold embroideries flashing in the sunlight. When she ceased, the party withdrew into the dirty little hut, and as we were now the whole attraction to the obviously verminous crowd we withdrew also. The hut was the headquarters of the bridegroom, and this was a preliminary entertainment. Next morning, four carriages dashed into the town at once, bringing the bride and her escort from Skodra in Albania. The horses' heads were decorated with gaily embroidered muslin handkerchiefs, and the bride's carriage was closely curtained and veiled. The amount of men and weapons that poured out of the other vehicles was astounding. When three carriages had unloaded, the bride's carriage drove up close to the entrance of the yard in which the hut stood, and the men made a long tunnel from door to door by holding up white sheets ; down this the bride fled safe and invisible, while curiosity devoured the spectators on the bridge. Every window in the hut was already shuttered and barred, and we thought there was no more to be seen.

But our presence had been already noted. A commotion arose among the men at the door of the hovel. A young Montenegrin onlooker came up, pulled together all his foreign vocabulary and stammeringly explained, "They wish you to go into their house." All the men in the crowd were consumed with curiosity about the hidden bride, and obviously envied us the invitation. We hesitated to plunge into the filthy hole. We didn't hesitate long, though. The bride and her friends meant to show off their finery to the foreigners ; a dark swagger fellow who would take no denial was sent out to fetch us, and we followed our escort obediently to the cottage door. We paused a half-second on the doorstep; It looked bad inside, but it was too late to go back. A passage was cleft for us immediately, and we found ourselves in a long low room with a mud floor - a noisome, squalid den in which one would not stable an English donkey. There was no light except what came through the small door and the chinks. It was packed with men ; their beady, bright eyes and silver weapons glittered, the only sparks of brightness in the gloom.

As my eyes got accustomed to the subdued light, I saw in the corner a huge caldron of chunks of most unpleasant-looking boiled mutton, with floating isles of fat, and my heart sank at the thought that perhaps our invitation included the wedding breakfast. The men guarding the door of the inner apartment parted, and we went in. No man, save the bridegroom, entered here. It was a tiny hole of a room, but its dirty stone walls were ablaze with glittering golden embroideries and it was lighted by oil lamps. The floor was covered with women squatting close together, their brown faces, all unveiled, showing very dark against their gorgeous barbaric costumes. It was a fierce jostle of colours - patches of scarlet, orange, purple and white, mellowed and harmonised by the lavish use of gold over all, coin head-dresses, necklaces, and girdles in reckless profusion. In the light of common day it would doubtless resolve itself into copper-gilt and glass jewels, but by lamplight it was all that could be desired. On a chair, the only one in the room, with her back to the partition wall, so as to be quite invisible to the men in the next room, sat the bride, upright, motionless, rigid like an Eastern idol. Her hands lay in her lap, her clothes were stiff with gold, and she was covered down to the knees with a thick purple and gold veil. There she has to sit without moving all day. She may not even, I am told, feed herself, but what nourishment she is allowed is given her under the veil by one of the other ladies. At her feet, cross-legged on the ground, sat the bridegroom, who I believe had not yet seen her - quite the most decorative bridegroom I ever saw, a good-looking fellow of about five-and-twenty, whose black and white Albanian garments, tight-fitting, showed him off effectively, while the arsenal of fancy weapons in his sash gave him the required touch of savagery. He gazed fixedly at the purple veil, endeavouring vainly to penetrate its mysteries, and, considering the trying circumstances in which he was placed, seemed to be displaying a good deal of fortitude. The air was heavy with scented pastilles, otherwise the human reek must have been unbearable.

Everyone began to talk at once, and it was evident front their nods and smiles that we had done the correct thing in coming. Unfortunately we couldn't understand a word, but we bowed to everyone, repeated our thanks, and tried to express our wonder and admiration. Whether we were intended to stay or not I do not know, but, haunted by a desire to escape with as small a collection of vermin as possible, and also to evade the chunks of mutton in the caldron, we backed our way, bowing, into the outer room after a few minutes, and were politely escorted to the entrance. Judging by the smiles and bows of everyone, our visit gave great satisfaction. After we left, the doors were shut, and there was a long lull, during which the mutton was probably consumed. If so, we escaped only just in time. In the afternoon the tambourines and sing-songs started again, and far into the night the long-drawn yowls of the epithalamium came down the wind.

In spite of the mixed Christian and Mohammedan population, excellent order is maintained. The more I see of the Montenegrin, the more I am struck with his power of keeping order. It is a favourite joke against him that when he asks for a job and is questioned as to his capabilities, he replies that he is prepared to " superintend," and it turns out that he is unable to do anything else. But not even our own policeman can perform the said "superintending" more quietly and efficiently. To the traveller the Mohammedan is very friendly. The attempt of a man to draw or photograph a woman is an insult which is not readily forgiven and may lead to serious consequences, but as long as one conforms to local customs these people are as kindly as one could wish, and not by a long way so black as they have often been painted. As a matter of fact a large proportion of the rows that occur all over the world between different nationalities arise from someone's indiscreet attentions to someone else's girl. And this is why a lady travelling alone almost always has a friendly welcome, for on this point at any rate she is above suspicion.

The Orthodox Montenegrin is equally anxious to make one feel at home. At Easter-tide, when the whole town was greeting each other and giving pink eggs, we were not left out. "Krsti uskrshnio je" ("Christ has risen") is the greeting, to which one must reply, "Truly He has risen," accepting the egg. People go from house to house, and eggs stand ready on the table for the visitors, who kiss the master and mistress of the house three times in the name of the Trinity. Montenegrin kisses - I speak merely as an onlooker - are extremely hearty. It is surprising what a number they get through on such a festival. For four days does the Easter holiday last.

Montenegrins take their holidays quietly. It used to be said of the Englishman that he takes his pleasures sadly. But that was before the evolution of the race culminated in 'Arry and 'Arriet. The Montenegrin has not yet reached this pitch of civilisation. I wonder whether he inevitably must, and if so, whether what he will gain will at all compensate for what he must lose. For civilisation, as at present understood, purchases luxuries at the price of physical deterioration. High living is by no means always accompanied by high thinking, and . . . the end of it the future must show. When the Montenegrin has learnt what a number of things he cannot possibly do without, let us hope he will be in some way the better. It is certain he will be in many ways the worse.

Things Christian lie on one side of the Ribnitza, and things Mohammedan on the other. The Turkish graveyard lies out beyond the old town, forlorn and melancholy as they mostly are. The burial-ground of the Orthodox is on the Montenegrin side of the town. The dead are borne to the grave in an open coffin, and the waxen face of the corpse is visible. The coffin-lid is carried next in the procession. I was told that this curious custom originated in the fact that sham funerals were used when the Balkan provinces were under Turkish rule as a means of smuggling arms. But I doubt this tale. For the custom used to prevail in Italy, and does still, I believe, in Spain. It is, in all probability, much older than the Turks, and a tradition that dates from the days when burning and not burial was the usual way of disposing of the dead and the body was carried to the funeral pyre upon a bier. The open coffin, the funeral songs, and the commemorative feasts annually held on the graves by many of the South Slavs, the lights and incense burnt upon the graves, and the lighted candles carried in the funeral processions together reproduce, with extraordinary fidelity, the rites and ceremonies of the Romans. And how much older they may be we know not.

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